When is a reliable source reliable?

My Dad is a professional musician. He’s played the fiddle and mandolin on stage with the likes of Rory Gallagher, The Pogues, Van Morrison and The Waterboys. Recently he noticed that his name was listed on the Wikipedia page about the mandolin as a noteworthy Irish mandolinist.

His name, ‘Paul Kelly‘, was listed as one of those red Wikipedia links that don’t go anywhere, because there was no ‘Paul Kelly’ Wikipedia page. Consequently, he asked me to make one for him. So I did.

Almost immediately, it was deleted. According to one of the millions of faceless Wikipedia Nazis, my Dad was actually not ‘noteworthy’ enough to warrant his own Wikipedia page.

Paul Kelly - A noteworthy Irish musician

This claim by the deleting Wikipedian was mainly due to my lack of sources. I couldn’t prove that Des Carty taught Paul how to play Irish traditional music (even though I knew Des because he taught me too). I couldn’t prove that Paul won an award for being All-Ireland Banjo champion in 1975 despite the fact that I was looking at the award on the wall of his front room as I typed it. I couldn’t prove that he helped to form the band Rusty Old Halo with the singer/songwriter Mick Hanly, even though I had been out drinking with the pair of them the week before and heard stories told of exactly that.

Despite knowing all of this, I couldn’t prove any of it because none of it is on the internet.

This brings me in a rather roundabout way to the curious case of Levi Leipheimer. The veteran American cyclist won the U.S. national criterium championship in 1996. He subsequently tested positive for a banned substance and was stripped of the title.

This incident is now listed on his Wikipedia page, but for a long time it wasn’t. The internet was still in its infancy in 1996, as such there was not the wealth of information on relatively minor cycling races like there is these days.

The original source information which the original editor of his page referred to was an article which appeared in the defunct cycling magazine ‘Winning’. This reference was not enough, so the information on the doping positive was deleted.

A user then found a cached version of ‘Winning’ magazine’s online site containing details of the story and re-updated the Wikipedia article. Again this was considered insufficient and was deleted.

Only after information was compiled from ‘Winning’ magazine, the Velonews website, an online source quoting the Leipheimer family confirming the story and a pdf from US cycling confirming that Leipheimer was not actually deemed the winner of this event, did the original deleters reluctantly allow the information on the doping positive to remain on the Wikipedia page.

The deleters constantly argued that ‘a truly reliable source (well respected newspaper/magazine/journal)’ was required for this story to remain on the page. All of this revisionism is available to view on the ‘Discussion’ tab on Leipheimer’s Wikipedia page.

So what is a truly reliable source these days? Is a printed magazine from the 1980s with a professional editorial process no longer reliable because it is not viewable on the internet? What if cyclingnews.com had taken its information from the same source as the original poster and written a story about it, would it then become reliable?

One of the comments on the Leipheimer discussion tab says that for a biography of a living person you must have ‘verifiable references, blogs are emphatically not acceptable’.

I am, unashamedly, a blogger. I blog about cycling. I have been fortunate enough to build up a decent reputation and stats and facts that I come up with now are (for the most part) taken on face value. I have found pieces of trivia that I’ve composed appear on the SkySports website, the Guardian website and the print version of the Irish Examiner.

I know they got the pieces of trivia from me because I emailed the journalists in question and asked them. I also know that in each case, the authors didn’t verify the piece of trivia that they had used. So because facts I concocted are now printed in a number of well respected ‘newspapers/magazines/journals’ – are the pieces of trivia more true now than when I came up with them? Despite the fact that they weren’t double checked by the ‘reliable source’ for accuracy?

This blog would not be allowable as a source on a Wikipedia page, but Skysports.com, theguardian.co.uk and the Irish Examiner most certainly would.

Is the fact more true now because the people writing for the reliable sources are qualified journalists and I am not? I know cycling journalists who have no journalism qualification. I know bloggers who have been paid to write about cycling.

Or was the piece of trivia actually true in the first place because the ‘reliable source’ has now become the unashamed blogger?

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  1. BikeRog - October 29, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

    You’re 100 percent correct in your assertions regarding authoritative sources. If you go back far enough, it gets to be a very slippery slope, and there are numerous journalistic examples of ancient errors repeated so many times by so many writers that they eventually take on the mantle of truth, even if the core truth is nowhere close to that.

    As far as your dad’s case goes, maybe assertions by iconoclastic traditional Irish musicians, such as Paddy Moloney, Paul Brady, Mick Moloney, Andy Irvine, or any of the original members of De Danann would be sufficient to make his case for him.


  2. Irish Peloton - October 30, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

    There are many examples of ‘facts’ that have taken on the mantle of truth within cycling simply because they have been repeated so often. Off the top of my head there’s ‘Bernard Hinault only rode Paris-Roubaix once’, ‘Lance Armstrong is the youngest ever World Champion’ and a more obscure one, ‘Ireland had a four-man team at the 1987 World Road Race Championship’.

    Regarding my Dad, I think I’ve managed to fend off the Wikipedia patrol, for now!

  3. Damien - November 2, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

    see, this is why I love this blog. 99.9% accuracy and a good bit of wit thrown in. Top of the Blogs!

  4. Irish Peloton - November 3, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

    Thanks Damien!

  5. Stephen Salmon - November 17, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

    It’s a great bloody blog Damien. Always interesting. Subjects and topics about cycling you wouldn’t normally think about. Not just any aul garbage to fill up the pages either. You can disagree and make your point without the author taking it personal and replying in a rude and aggressive manner. What I’d love to know is where Cillian finds the time? On second thoughts a more accurate conclusion would be I am just a lazy sod. Where do you get the ideas from? 🙂

    While on the topic of sources did you read Nicolas Roche’s ‘Inside the Peloton’? He briefly scooted over 1987 and his dad’s victories. He also mentioned one of Sean Kelly’s crashes in the tour. I think he was referring to the crash he had when riding for Kas. He broke his collarbone and tried to ride on. After a bit he couldn’t carry on so climbed off and retired. He shed a few tears as well. More than a few if memory serves me correctly. I remember the scene from tv like it was yesterday. Can you answer me this? In ‘Inside the Peloton’ Roche and Cromwell said it was 1988. But I think it was 1987 when Stephen Roche won. So I tweeted the two of them and pointed it out. Not rudely or anything. Just more like a question than anything else. Neither of them replied. I am correct though ain’t I? It was ’87??

    That’s one thing that bugs me about Nicolas Roche (and anybody who does the same like Cav). He never replies to any of my tweets. I have to say I can understand if he is being tweeted every bloody second but i doubt he is. I have given up. He gets no messages of support from me anymore. Although I still support him and always will, i just dont send the messages anymore. It would do wonders for his fans and increase his fan base if he did. I’ve no doubt about it. I read in a letter to Procycling magazine about a bloke who sent Mark Renshaw some well wishes and a few questions on his move to Rabobank. Renshaw went out of his way and replied. Can you believe that? Now that is the way to behave and treat your fans. Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for a reply every single time. Just one, once in a blue moon or rarer would do the trick. It’s pure manners. Greg Henderson regularly replies to mine, Matty Brammeier has on occasion. In my opinion, if you are not going to you shouldn’t be tweeting, facebooking, emailing, blogging or whatever! Anyway… question number 2…does he ignore you?
    Cheers man, keep em coming!! 😉

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